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Roleplaying: Defining your character through social interactions. Some people love to enact a person very different from themselves. To adopt an outrageous accent, cobble together a character portrait, and jump into a role with both feet.

Exploring: Discovering a new setting, new lands, new creatures.

Strategy: Using your collection of powers, gear, and abilities to their fullest. Planning your turns and actions in advance to overcome a challenging foe.

Choice: The freedom to act in a simulated world. This is like storytelling, except the player is allowed to steer the story a bit, not simply experience it. It's really nice to find yourself in a classic movie setup where you can see who the bad guy is and be able to just beat him down yourself instead of impotently shouting advice to the characters on-screen while they blunder into his obvious trap.

But the nature of a specific D&D game can vary a great deal depending on who is running the game and these gameplay aspects will appeal to different types of players. Some people just want to kill stuff and don't care about story. Some want to play characters, etc. But since every game was run by a person, D&D was able to be all things to all people. If the game wasn't giving you what you wanted then it was a problem with your DM, not the game.

So then the computer rolled in and people started making videogames out of what they thought were the crucial components of an RPG. Some focused on character building, some on storytelling, some on strategy. And they all called their wildly divergent games "Role Playing Games". That was over twenty years ago, and the problem has only gotten more complex since then. Now we have new ingredients like "action", "character customization", and "massively multiplayer" that further Balkanize the genre. Then on top of that we have all the thematic distinctions like medieval fantasy, cyberpunk, superhero, and so on. Properly labeling a given RPG requires a classification system to rival botany.

I don't really see any solution for this. I could start calling Torchlight type games "Character Building" games to differentiate from BioWare-style "Storytelling" games and Bethesda style "Exploring" games. I could also just go around calling them "Maurice," which has about the same chance of catching on. The English language is open source, but submitting your changes is problematic.

What would you name these game types?

Shamus Young is the guy behind Twenty Sided, DM of the Rings, and Stolen Pixels, Shamus Plays, and Spoiler Warning. He's really busy.

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